OWENSBORO — After Sgt. William Eugene Brashear died in 1950 during intense fighting in North Korea, the military and his family figured that his remains would never be recovered.
Yet 62 years later, Brashear will be buried Saturday near family members in Owensboro's historic Elmwood Cemetery.
An urn containing Brashear's ashes will be flown into Evansville, Ind., at 9 a.m. Friday. He will be buried Saturday with full military honors beside the graves of his parents, Gilbert Eugene and Porter Lou Petri Brashear.
"He was a wonderful uncle," Helen Carol Knott Adkins of Louisville told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. "His parents, my grandparents, raised my sister and me. I was 11 when we got the telegram that he was missing."
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Brashear's long road home started with his deployment to Korea in 1950. Brashear, 24 and a World War II veteran who spent 22 months in Europe, had been stationed at Fort Knox for nearly two years before he was deployed.
"When he would come home, he would have candy hidden in his glove compartment for us," Adkins said. "Mama didn't want him to re-enlist. He gave Mama his re-enlistment bonus to build a bathroom on the house."
On June 25, North Korea invaded South Korea and the United States was at war again. Brashear sent letters back to Owensboro describing the combat he saw, including having his tank platoon cut off by North Koreans for nine days. He would receive a Purple Heart for wounds sustained on Sept. 15 outside Waegwan, South Korea.
On Oct. 31, Brashear wrote Thelma Lee that his unit had left Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and moved 100 miles north with South Korean troops. His last letter was dated Nov. 1 from Unsan, North Korea.
A day later, Brashear was dead, along with 600 other soldiers from the 8th Cavalry, killed in the Battle of Unsan.
The Army concluded that their bodies could not be recovered and were likely buried on the battlefield by Chinese or North Korean troops.
"I didn't think they would ever find him," Adkins said. "I had given up hope years ago."
But in August 2000, the Korean War Project, a non-profit corporation based in Dallas, launched a program to identify the remains of American forces found in Korea and to find their families. Family members supplied DNA to help with identification.
Also in 2000, a joint team from the United States and North Korea, excavated a mass grave that had been discovered in Unsan.
The Army said the remains of "at least five individuals" and U.S. military uniforms were recovered, "but they were unable to be identified given the technology of the time."
In 2007, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory reanalyzed the remains and were eventually able to identify Brashear.
Adkins got the call on Nov. 5 — 61 years and three days after her uncle was killed.
"All I could do was bawl," she said. "All they found were a few bones and one tooth. I asked them to cremate them."
At the time of his death, he had a 7-month-old son, Alan Eugene Brashear. In 1987, he became the 14th person to receive a heart transplant at Louisville's Humana Hospital Audubon. He died a few years later.
William Brashear was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
More than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.